Taking Care of One of Utah’s Greatest Assets

By Yeti Jun 22, 2022
How businesses and nonprofits are coming together to ensure the future of our state’s beloved public lands.
Taking Care of One of Utah’s Greatest Assets

 words by Melissa Fields

If you live in or have visited Utah, then you know how close the mountains are to the state’s metro area. From downtown Salt Lake City, Logan, Provo or Ogden, the view to the east is made up of a series of deep canyons, green (or snowy) hillsides and craggy ridgelines collectively known as the Wasatch Mountains—and referred to by locals as simply ‘The Wasatch.’ These mountains are not only a figurative determinant of life in Utah, but a literal one as well: more than 70 percent of Utah residents regularly participate in some form of mountain-based recreation and much of the water consumed by those living in the aforementioned cities and suburbs originates in the mountains as snow. 

Since most of Utah’s 15 mountain resorts are located within The Wasatch, skiing and snowboarding are how many will first become acquainted with this awe-inspiring mountain range. This has become even more evident over the last several years as both Utah residents and visitors, fueled by affordable season passes and a pandemic-induced desire to be nurtured by nature, have hit the slopes more often than ever before. In the summer, snow sliders—joined by throngs of non-skiers—head back into Utah’s higher, cooler altitudes to picnic, hike, fish, camp, mountain bike or rock climb.

A fact that many Wasatch Mountains devotees may not be aware of is that some of the resort-serviced slopes where they glide through Utah’s famous “Greatest Snow on Earth®” in the winter and hit the trails in the summer are owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Alta Ski Area, Brian Head Ski Resort, Brighton, Snowbasin Resort, Snowbird and Solitude Mountain Resort all operate at least partially on these federally owned lands. The public-private partnerships between the ski resorts and the U.S.F.S. come with a responsibility for stewardship that the resorts take very seriously.

For example, Snowbird recently completed a watershed restoration project in American Fork Canyon, supports pollination within the local ecosystem by placing honeybee hives in Mineral Basin and plants more than 2,000 native-species seedlings within its resort boundaries every summer. For its part, Alta hosts community invasive weed pulling and tree planting events, has mitigated erosion and plant damage by improving and expanding its summer trail system and participates in the education-focused Alta Summer Host program. (In May 2022, both Snowbird and Alta were recognized for these and other sustainability practices with the coveted Gold Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence by the National Ski Areas Association.)

Of course, the U.S. Forest Service’s footprint extends well beyond the mountain resorts. Much of the Wasatch—as well as the adjacent Uinta Mountain Range—are part of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest—a huge swath of land spanning more than 2.2 million acres visited by 9 million people every year, making it one of the most visited National Forests in the United States. The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache also encompasses nine wilderness areas—lands among the most highly protected in America that are intended to be self-willed and allowed to be as they were found, both philosophically and practically. Utah is unique in that four wilderness areas—Twin Peaks, Mt. Olympus, Lone Peak and Mt Timpanogos—directly border the state’s urban core, creating a clearly discernible boundary where civilization ends and wild begins.

Utah’s Wilderness Areas, as well as the greater Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, are home to some of the state’s most beloved treasures, places like: Brighton’s Silver Lake, Donut Falls, Mount Olympus, Strawberry Reservoir, the Wasatch Crest Trail, Millcreek Canyon’s Dog Lake, the “Y” hiking trail in Provo, Mount Timpanogos, the Uinta Highline trail and the hundreds of rock-climbing routes in the Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons. Treasured places that, by in large, are available for public use free of charge.

Despite the cherished regard Americans have for our public lands—and in particular, our national forests—the U.S.’s wild, public places face myriad challenges, ranging from the effects of climate change to being loved to death. Over the years, multiple grassroots organizations have risen to the challenge of caring for public lands beyond the capacity of government, organizations like TreeUtah, Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, Friends of Utah State Parks, and the Canyonlands and Capitol Reef Natural History Associations, The Zion Forever Project and the Glen Canyon Conservancy, along with many others.

Shoring up the vast gap in public land stewardship is not exclusive to non-profits, however. More and more businesses, like Utah’s mountain resorts, are stepping up to do their part as well. But among the precious few companies founded on the premise of ensuring public lands will be kept intact for future generations is Wild Tribute, a Salt Lake City-based lifestyle apparel company founded in 2012 by Brian Stowers and Ben Kieffner. “We like to think business is the most powerful man-made force on the planet,” Kieffner says. “If harnessed with purposed and passion, why can’t business help plug the gaps in funding and education that the parks so desperately need?”

The core of Wild Tribute’s mission is 4 the Parks, an operational tenant through which the company donates 4 percent of its proceeds to more than 60 grassroots associations and agencies from across the country that are making the biggest difference in supporting parks, forests and oceans, as well as ensuring access to these wild places for underserved communities. (A full list of Wild Tribute’s 4 the Parks initiatives can be found here.) Twelve of the organizations Wild Tribute supports serve Utah public spaces, meaning if you’ve been to one of Utah’s many state parks, national parks, monuments, recreation areas or national forests, you’ve likely benefited from Wild Tribute’s support.

In 2021, Wild Tribute partnered with Ski Utah to produce a new line of licensed logo wear and accessories in Wild Tribute’s uniquely cool and artistic aesthetic. In alignment with Wild Tribute’s 4 the Forests guiding principle, 4 percent of the proceeds from its Ski Utah line is donated to TreeUtah, which partners with students, municipalities, local businesses, community groups, and volunteers to plant trees in public spaces throughout the state. Since its inception in 1989, TreeUtah has planted more than 385,000 trees with the help of over 165,000 volunteers and donors around Utah.

Utah’s intimate urban-public lands proximity is one of the state’s most discerning calling cards. In very few other places in America can you stand, literally, with one foot within city limits and the other in protected wilderness. But with this ease of access comes a responsibility to care for and preserve the public lands in our backyards. Gratefully, dozens of nonprofit organizations and businesses are stepping up to do what government can’t, including Wild Tribute. “Conscious business is not without the conscious consumer,” reads Wild Tribute’s mission statement. “We’re defined by those who love our national parks and public lands as much as we do. Together, we pay tribute to these wild and historic places. Together, we’re making a difference.”

content sponsored by Wild Tribute